One man’s lucky escape as kamikazes hit Ticonderoga

USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) afire off Formosa, January 21, 1945, just after her initial kamikaze hit on the forward flight deck. Photographed from USS Miami (CL-89). A Vought OS2U Kingfisher floatplane is on the cruiser's starboard catapult, in the foreground.

USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) afire off Formosa, January 21, 1945, just after her initial kamikaze hit on the forward flight deck. Photographed from USS Miami (CL-89). A Vought OS2U Kingfisher floatplane is on the cruiser’s starboard catapult, in the foreground.

Fighting fire from flight deck showing smoke from #1 elevator.

Fighting fire from flight deck showing smoke from #1 elevator.

The Japanese military aim in attacking Pearl Harbor had been to neutralise the major components of the US Navy, enabling to them to win swift territorial victories relatively unopposed. In December 1941 they had failed to sink all the carriers they had hoped to hit. But just three year later they were facing an incomparably greater American Naval force, far stronger than the force that they had hoped to knock out.

The extraordinary expansion of the US Fleet now not only enabled them to deploy huge numbers of ships for their amphibious attacks on Japanese held territories – but also to deploy the roving Fast Carrier Task Force. Within this were four Task Groups each based on four aircraft carriers, defended by numerous support ships – each Task Group had up 24 destroyers screening it.

Operation Gratitude had begun with the conventional support of the landings on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. But the carriers had then moved into the South China Sea and their planes had successfully attacked a wide range of Japanese targets in French Indo-China (now Vietnam), crippling the Japanese mercantile fleet. Now they moved back for an attack on Formosa (Taiwan). The weather was good for flying – which meant it was also good for kamikazes.

Edgar Newlin was part of the aircraft maintenance crew on the USS Ticonderoga:

As I remember, it was a nice calm day, which influenced a later decision. I was a plane captain. For anyone that doesn’t know what that is. I took care of an airplane, a fighter to be exact. I was suppose to keep it fueled, tied down, cleaned etc. We were suppose to stay with the plane anytime we were at flight quarters if it wasn’t tied down.

At this time we were at flight quarters, but for some reason the lunch had been delayed so my plane was just sitting there. I would have been the third plane launched, one on each catapult, and then mine.

It was past noon and we hadn’t had chow when another plane captain came along and talked me into going. Remember, we were not suppose to leave our plane in that condition, but we did and it probably saved my life. We had just reached the mess hall when the fantail 40s started firing, maybe three or four rounds. Then they started General Quarters, maybe two or three boings, when a suicide plane hit and blew up on the hangar deck. It sounded like a bucket with rocks in it;more of a rattle than an explosion.

I dropped my tray and started back up the flight deck, but by then smoke was everywhere and some of the hatches had been closed so I had an awful time getting back to my battle station, which was my plane, and when I got there it was gone! Thats was where the jap had hit. He must have aimed for my plane; it went through the flight deck and blew up on the hangar deck. That was what I heard when I was in the mess hall.

I didn’t have a battle station so I just wandered around kind of in a daze. I had no idea what to do. I tried to help others, but I seemed to be in the road. I don’t know how much later it was, it seemed like hours but was probably not over 30 minutes, when I found myself standing on the flight deck, forward of the five-inch guns, watching a second Jap plane heading straight for the island. I just stood there watching because I was sure he would go down. I could see the tracer shells, going through the plane and the pilot.

It soon became clear that he was going to hit us. About then I realized where I was standing. I looked around;all I could do was jump down to the catwalk and head for the port side under the flight deck. When I was about halfway across I heard the plane hit the island.

From then on I remembered only flashes of what happened. I remember wandering around, trying to find where I was needed but I don’t recall doing anything specific. I still feel the hopeless feeling of not being able to do anything for my friends. I don’t remember many names – Selbe walking around holding a big wad of cotton on what was left of his arm. blown off just above his elbow. He died about 2:00 the next morning – shock they said. There was a little boy named Menard, blown in half. He always wore his dog tags on his belt loop, so we could identify him from that. I don’t think he was much over fifteen at the time.

I remember they used our compartment as part of Sick Bay that night so we slept wherever we could. The next day the hospital ship took the wounded and we had burials at sea all afternoon. I have never had any doubt that I was saved by divine intervention. If I had been where I was supposed to be, I would surely have been killed. If we started two minutes later we would have been caught on the hangar deck where all the casualties of the first plne were. If we had gone sooner we might have been back to my plaane and I would have been killed then.

Read Edgar Newlin’s account and those of others aboard the USS Ticonderoga on that fateful day at CV-14

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) lists to port in the aftermath of a kamikaze attack in which four suicide planes hit the ship, 21 January 1945. Note her camouflage scheme measure 33/10A and the Fletcher-class destroyer in the background.

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) lists to port in the aftermath of a kamikaze attack in which four suicide planes hit the ship, 21 January 1945. Note her camouflage scheme measure 33/10A and the Fletcher-class destroyer in the background.

It was also a hard day on the USS Hancock. The scene moments after bombs fell off an Avenger and exploded, killing 62 men.

It was also a hard day on the USS Hancock. The scene moments after bombs fell off an Avenger and exploded, killing 62 men.

From the Deck Log of the USS Hancock, 21 January 1945:

1328: VT 124, Bu #23539 [a General Motors TBM-3 Avenger], pilot, LT(JG) C.R. Dean, 298954, and crewmen F.J. Blake, ARM3c, and D.E. Zima, AOM2c, made a normal landing and taxied forward. As the plane reached a point abreast the island a violent explosion occurred, believed to have been caused by the detonation of two (2) 500 lb. bombs adrift in the plane’s bomb bay. The immediate results of the explosion were: casualties: killed – 62; critically injured – 46; seriously injured – 25; slightly injured – 20. A 10×16 foot hole in the flight deck, gallery deck area in the vicinity demolished, inboard side signal bridge wrecked. Three airplanes demolished. Numerous shrapnel holes throughout the island structure. Fires broke out on the flight, gallery, and hangar decks. Hauled clear of the formation and commenced maneuvering at various courses and speeds in an attempt to control the winds over the deck, and with high speed turns, to wash flooding water out of the hangar deck.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary Wade August 16, 2017 at 2:02 am

My father was also a radioman. His name was Richard A. Wade and he turned 19 in December 1944. He was allowed to join up just days before his 18th birthday.

John Leavitt III August 2, 2017 at 11:02 pm

My father, John O. Leavitt Jr, was a pilot who flew a torpedo bomber Avenger off the Ticonderoga. He was on board during the Kamikaze strike on 1/21/1945. He is still alive at 93 but has never spoken of wartime combat. The Kamakaze strike occasionally still haunts him to this day. His health is failing now. The family would like to know more about his service if any one can contribute we would appreciate it.

Chaplain Patrick Hodynski June 26, 2017 at 10:18 pm

Good Day,
I was just doing some research on my wife’s family, and I have come to find that she was related to a sailor on the Big T.
All I have found so far is that he was one that did not make it that fateful day.
His name was George Arnett, he was from the Hestand Community of Kentucky.

Is there anyone out there that can shed some light on him? This was never spoken of in my wife’s family, so we know NOTHING.
Anything you can share?

I thank you and I thank all those that served.
Chaplain Patrick Hodynski
Facebook: Philly Force
Email: patrick.forcechaplains@gmail.com

Nancy Stovall Champagne May 29, 2017 at 7:22 am

I was born May 20 1944. My dad Sam Stovall Jr. joined in September/October of that year. He was only 181/2 yrs old. Not sure but I think he was top deck on a gun when the Kamazie hit. There was nothing left of him. His Uncle was on a ship behind the Ticonderoga and went on board to check on him. What was left was buried at sea. I never knew him. I was told when I was seven that he was killed in the war. I will never forget that day. At that time it was sad. Don’t know why it had to happen but the treaty ws not signed until August 1945. If it was signed earlier, my Dad would have made it home. So very sad for for all of those souls that were lost and the ones after. War is forever I guess. Would like to talk to a survivor if there is one or two, or three! Nancy Ann Stovall

John M Baran May 29, 2017 at 6:20 am

My father was an ARM2 (Aviation Radioman 2nd Class) and a member of the VB-80 bomber squadron. He was having breakfast when the attack came and the planes hit the deck…125 men died that day, January 21, 1945. So many of them were burned so badly, all he had to go on were the dog tags. His job was to pull one off the bodies and give it to the Chaplain, who would forward it to the surviving family…place a religious pin (cross for Christian…Star of David for Jewish…and a Crescent Moon for the 1-2 who were Muslim) and an American flag pin on the bodies…then sew the body bags closed. Later, he helped drop them into the sea in a mass burial…where they still lie today…in honored glory…in a place known only to God…I am sure Patrick, who wrote back in April 4, 2017 would concur on this story…

Patrick April 4, 2017 at 11:27 pm

My dad was a radioman first class. He served on the Big T the entire time. He was in the communications room when both planes hit. He never gave me the details. January 21 was his 23rd birthday. I remember him telling me that all the men were very proud and had great confidence in their Captain Dixie Keifer, who was knocked out of commission in the attack. My dad said none of the sailors liked the officer who took over command, but all thought afterward that this man saved the ship. My dad attended several reunions of the Big T and loved them. He died at 76 in 1998. Several months after his death we received a great letter from one of his shipmates who had not seen him since the war. His nickname was “Shorty” on the ship. I called Shorty and had one of the best conversations of my life with him. He told me stories about the ship and how close all the guys were and that he and my dad were great buddies. He was in the communications room with him during the attack. It was pretty harrowing. The fire was both above and below them and they could not get out. He said they stayed at their posts and kept working while it kept getting hotter and smokier. He said they were all young and did not think they were going to die. All those guys made it out. Shorty also told me about one sailor who had a premonition of death the day before. He was killed in the attack.

Vitee November 28, 2016 at 3:01 am

No US carriers were hit or even attacked on the 7th December 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; they were at sea at the time. This was the reason that no third strike was ordered.

Julian Urbano November 11, 2016 at 7:53 pm

My grandfather Isidoro Urbano Sr. served and was on the USS Tyconderoga CV-14 when the Kamikaze hit. There were actually two planes that hit that day.

Mary Burns November 23, 2015 at 6:20 pm

My dad was William A. Burns (Bill). He was 16 when he joined the navy and was a hot shell man on the Ticonderoga. When the Kamikaze plane hit he was hit in the back of the head with a gash and burns. He never spoke too much about his time aboard the ship and I have always wondered about what happened. He was a very proud, hard working, patriot man and died at the age of 69 in Punta Gorda Florida. I wonder if anyone on this feed knew him.

Brett Westley October 30, 2015 at 6:12 pm

Does anyone know my dad Harold Westley, Jr.? He flew TBMs off of CV 14 during the war. Please help because I would like to know more about his Navy years.

Lyndall Groom June 6, 2015 at 6:07 pm

Thanks for sharing these images and videos of the Kamikazie attack on the Ticonderoga. I was doing a Google search as my mother’s older brother Gladwell McCain was a flagman on this Aircraft Carrier. I only know him from pictures and he was my dad’s best friend in Navy. He of course was one that was killed that day. I give great thanks to all of our military men and women past and present serving our country. God Bless America and their heros.

Diane (Armstrong) Kaiser February 20, 2015 at 10:45 pm

My dad, sadly, was one of those buried at sea on January 21, 1945 on the Tigonderoga. Miss him terribly even though I never knew him.

Bless all our servicemen & women. Just can’t express enough love or gratitude for all they have done and are doing.

John G. January 26, 2015 at 10:08 pm

Reply to Ken: Yes there may be spoilt brats out there (I am thinking mainly baby boomers) but there are also those who have taken their roles and responsibilities seriously and continue to work hard defending this USA and serving their local communities! From Korea (my Father), to Vietnam, on and on until the current times. They are some of the best the USA has to offer! I know, I served with them for 23+ years. Semper Fi!!

Glenn January 22, 2015 at 3:01 pm

Not to nitpick, but unless I’m mistaken, no US carriers were sunk at Pearl Harbor (nor in the rest of Dec. 1941).

Rick Holahan January 22, 2015 at 4:51 am

After reading this account of the “TI”, I remind myself again how lucky I was to be a plane captain in VS38 in peace time, serving aboard the HORNET, KEARSARGE, AND BENNINGTON in the late 50s, making AO2 before getting out. My memories are fortunate not to have been filled with the horror of losing shipmates, but rather a four year adventure, and being able to still be in contact with some of my service buddies, hoping to see some of them very soon before time catches all of us.

Irene Lusk Muccia January 22, 2015 at 1:42 am

My heart is breaking looking at this and knowing that my Dad, Byron Lusk, was in the middle of this and could have been killed. He told me about it and I asked myself how he could live with these images and the loss of his friends and fellow sailors. He rarely talked about it.He was a hero and a trooper and I have him
Years later when my son, Joe Muccia, joined the Marines, he opened up to him, too.He had found a kindred soul.

Kenneth S.Perez January 22, 2015 at 12:31 am

Those veterans of all services gave so much, so that we could have spoilt brats, that frown to work, think as well as be generally lazy, let alone care about anything except for their I pods and computer games. So sad.

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